I sat crossed-legged on my kitchen counter and let the heat from my mug warm my hands. It was below forty degrees in our apartment, but I tried not to let that bother me too much. At least we had someplace to live.
As I sipped my tea, I heard Jacob curse from the other room. For some reason, my mother’s voice echoed through my head.
“Language,” I reprimanded him. I said it firmly and I made sure he heard me, but I didn’t shout. As a general unspoken rule, Jacob and I did not fight.
He shuffled into the kitchen and pinned me with a look.
“Really?” he asked, his eyebrows disappearing into his hair. It really was getting much too long.
“Really,” I confirmed, holding his gaze. It was was Mom would have done. It ought to work for big sisters, right?
He heaved a sigh and shook his head, looking bemused.
“Yeah, alright,” he agreed as he turned to make his way back toward the living room.
“What are you working on this time?”
“The bookcase,” he told me, holding up the level in his hand. “The shelves are uneven.”
“So?” I asked, and I knew my nose scrunched in confusion. “It’s not like we have anything to put on them.”
“No, but we will someday, won’t we? I don’t want it going on a crooked shelf.”
Jacob wandered back toward his project and I couldn’t help but smile. If there wasn’t something for him to do, he’d invent a task for himself. No one could ever accuse my brother of having idle hands. In the short time since our arrival, he’d managed to replace the windows, right the doors that were falling off their hinges, and retile the small bathroom we shared. One had to admire his sense of industry.
My tea had cooled a bit and I drank it deeply, my focus straying to the window. I saw shapes in the distance that must have been our landlord and his family. While it felt early to me, I knew our neighbors had been awake for hours.
“Sara?” Jacob called.
“Any idea where a hammer could be? Or maybe a pry bar?”
“Not a clue,” I almost laughed. “You could ask David.”
I listened for my brother’s footfalls as he left the bungalow in search of our friend David. We’d lived here almost three weeks, and while a tiny farmhouse that was probably somewhere near eighty years old and had seen its share of bad winters certainly wasn’t the city apartment Jacob and I had grown up in, it sure felt like home to me.
Ruth had said her cousin’s farm was some version of paradise, what she imagined heaven might be like. While I didn’t really go that far, I could see what she meant by it. It might not have the unicorns and ice cream I’d pictured when I thought of heaven as a child, but it was safe and the people welcomed me. It was much more than we’d had for the past few years.
Mom had gone to Austria in search of some old family friends to stay with. The last thing she told me before she went was that it seemed unfair to be fleeing a place her great-grandmother had herself fled to so long ago, but perhaps that was our cycle. To never have anywhere to belong. I hated the sentiment, but worse than that, I hated that I understood it.
We hadn’t heard from Dad in months. I think that’s what finally convinced my brother it was time to seek refuge.
I didn’t care that it had only been three weeks, and that nothing was certain. I was relieved. We were as off the grid as anyone could get in twenty-first century America, and at least for now, we were safe.
I looked up at the sound of Jacob plodding back into the house triumphantly.
“Got it!” he called.
I smiled into my mug.